Last spring, the 18-member
2020-21 class of Institute
Visiting Scholars was named.
Some established, some
emerging, they bring a
diversity of backgrounds and
research interests as they
examine what sorts of policies
work to improve economic
opportunity and inclusion,
How can increases in the minimum wage benefit people who
are not part of the labor force? Here’s one striking example:
Caregiver wages can be a matter of life or death for nursing
So says visiting scholar Krista Ruffini, who acknowledges
that measuring the effects wage increases have on the quality
of goods and services is a challenge. Answers to questions like,
“How did this restaurant experience compare to another?” or
“Was this salon visit better than the last?” are hard to quantify.
But nursing homes are far different.
They’re held to federal reporting requirements
about the status of their patients
and facility conditions. Ruffini says these
data are key to uncovering the relationship
between wages and service quality.
During her time at the Council of Economic
Advisers and the Center on Budget
and Policy Priorities in Washington D.C.,
Ruffini observed firsthand how economics
research could shape and inform public policy. The inspiration
to pursue a degree in public policy came from examining
research on the earned income tax credit. Not only did the tax
credit increase employment and earnings, but the additional
family income improved health and academic outcomes.
These indirect effects of wage and income increases
prompted new questions for Ruffini. Using 25 years of
nursing home reporting data alongside changes in the minimum
wage, Ruffini found that having an experienced and
knowledgeable caregiver can make a vital difference. As the
minimum wage increases, nursing assistant pay at long-term
care facilities also goes up. In turn, these caregivers are more
likely to stay in their jobs for longer periods of time.
“This facility-specific expertise translates into improved
outcomes for patients: fewer health inspection violations,
fewer infections, and fewer deaths,” Ruffini said.
For these firms, better outcomes for patients mean
actual dollars saved and sometimes earned. As the quality of
care increases, there are fewer patient hospitalizations and
inspection violations. Residents are also more likely to live in
the facility longer.
Minimum wage research has historically focused on how
raises affect employees directly and on how related increased
costs affect consumers. But Ruffini says there’s more
to learn by zooming out to take in the larger picture.
“There’s pushback on minimum wage policies and income
assistance policies in general,” Ruffini said. "I think my work
shows the overall net cost isn’t as big as the gross cost would
make it seem.”
More Scholar Spotlights from this issue